FICTION: Skipping by Ronald J. Pelias

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I love to skip. Such a sensation! It’s the closest I get to feeling like I can fly. I know it’s not something a man is supposed to do, particularly a guy my age, but I do it anyway. My childhood friend, Kerry, taught me how, and we would skip up and down the street while our parents chatted on the porch. She also taught me how to play Jacks, a game I never managed to win when playing against Kerry. Maybe that’s why I preferred to skip with her, to fly hand in hand, ready for take-off. Such joy!

Like my recurrent, middle-school dream, the one that so many people report having during those adolescent years, the one where you’re flying above your friends, waving to them, free from all the eyes that tell you what you can and cannot do. I use to see Bonnie in my flying dreams, the first girl I really kissed, the one who is responsible for teaching me the link between kissing and sexual stirrings.

I shouldn’t go there, although I did just read a CNN post that there’s a relationship between frequency of intercourse and marijuana usage. It seems the more you smoke, the more likely you are to have more sex, which doesn’t surprise me. If it wasn’t so juvenile, I’d say being laid back helps you get laid.

I don’t know if the connection is correlational or causal. People confuse the two all the time. I don’t mean the people who did the study. I’m not saying that, but in everyday use. I don’t claim to be an expert, particularly given I wasn’t the best of students in my statistics class, but that’s where I learned the difference. I liked how you could plug in some numbers and out came truth. It was all so neat and clean. I just didn’t like how those numbers made people disappear.

I’ve always been most interested in individual lives—how they come to believe what they do, how they relate to one another, how they live together; like how did so many people come to believe that voting for Trump was a good idea, like how could a Trump supporter and Clinton supporter ever agree on what might be best for the country, like how could a couple on different sides of the political aisle possibly live together. How people make sense of the world has always fascinated me. I love watching people, listening in on their conversations. That why my wife, Liz, sometimes tells me to get my nose out of other people’s business. But I like sniffing around, seeing how people go about their daily lives. I think most people do.

People seem to be at the center of everything and that can be a problem. That’s why we can so easily exploit the animal world without seeing ourselves as just another animal in the menagerie. That’s why we are destroying the earth without realizing that we are destroying ourselves. Just think about all the people who deny climate change so they can keep on living like they do. They’re in for a shock. We all are.

I read somewhere that trees communicate with one another, send each other signals about how their roots might thrive together, about how they might allow each other to receive the maximum sunlight. I also read somewhere else that they scream when we cut them down. I wonder if they send signals about how stupid we are. I wonder if they will survive. We should think about that.

And we should take into account all those ways that technology alters who we are. It changes us. Every day we become something different. It’s really quite remarkable. We’re becoming part machines, cyborgs. But people will always be people. I just wish these electronic innovations would help us be more reasonable and more compassionate. And it would be nice if these devices would give you an electrical shock if you ever acted like an arrogant ass.

I’ve never much enjoyed being around people who thought they had all the answers. I prefer people who are attracted to questions, who like to hang around what might be possible. Sometimes though, I do want concrete answers, like I want to know how much a loaf of bread I’m considering buying cost; I want to know if the bridge I’m crossing is strong enough to support the passing vehicles; I want to know how much money I have in the bank. Sometimes, even though I want a definitive answer, I will never know for sure, like when I ask if I will be aware of my own death, if humans are destined to live in conflict with one another, if Liz loves me. I think I’ll skip over that last one.

Early on in my marriage I showed Liz how I could skip. Her response was simple: “Don’t do that anymore. Okay?” I laughed, but I knew it wouldn’t be good for my marriage if I didn’t heed her words. Trying to figure out relationships isn’t easy, but that was an easy one. She seldom uses direct statements so when she does, I pay attention. She often speaks in the language of innuendo. In other words, I have to read her mind, which, to be honest, I don’t do very well.

I wish I could read minds. That would be a great superpower. Those clairvoyants, like the ones you see on America’s Got Talent, don’t really read minds or predict the future. They’re just entertainers. They have tricks, some pretty good ones, that make you think that’s what they’re doing. If they actually had such power, they wouldn’t be spending their time on a talent show. People can be so gullible. That’s why so many of them voted for Trump, even though they were told over and over again that Trump spent his whole business career scamming people. Now he’s scamming all of us.

It must be hard to wake up every morning knowing you’ll be looking for ways to rip people off. What do you say to yourself that makes you feel okay with that? People are so stupid they deserve what they get? That’s how you have to make a living? Everybody does it? Maybe they don’t even think about it—it’s just how they are. That must be it because I don’t see how you could sleep after seeing the hurt on people’s faces when they realize what you’ve done.

It’s funny how faces can stay with you. I remember the look my high school coach had when I kept messing up a play in practice. He started yelling at me and his face got so red I thought it was going to explode. And then there was the time a good friend of mine discovered his partner was seeing someone else. He looked so sad, so beaten down. I never saw him look like that before, his eyes so red and glassy I thought they would shatter. And my mom’s fifty-one-year-old face right before she died. It was hard to tell if she was surprised or frightened. I’ll always remember that face.

Prosopagnosia. That’s the word for people who have difficulty recognizing familiar faces. In some cases, they can’t even identify their own face. That would be hard. You look in the mirror and don’t know who you’re looking at. And just imagine not remembering people you’ve met several times and not acknowledging them. You can guess what they would think about you. Even worse would be the people who you love, them having to explain over and over again who they are. I had college roommate who was dating this woman for about six months. They were getting serious, but one day he ran across her in the mall, and it took her several minutes to remember who he was. At first, he thought she was joking, but then, when he realized she wasn’t, he saw it as a sign that they weren’t right for each other, and he broke it off. I didn’t know about facial blindness back then, but I bet that she had a mild case.

Some things you remember you’re glad stay with you, like my dad’s platitudes. Dad makes those sayings his own. He lives by them. Some are about money, straight, I guess, from the days of the Great Depression: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  “You can’t buy today’s groceries with tomorrow’s dime.” Many more are about dealing with everyday difficulties: “This too shall pass.” “It all comes out in the wash.” “Time heals all wounds.” “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” “Everything happens for a reason.” He offers such clichés as life lessons, ones that carry the collected wisdom of generations. For him, they move across time and place as universal truths.

I’m pretty skeptical about the idea of universal truths. Is there anything that is true for all people for all time? Even how we understand physical reality changes, and when you think about the universe, there is so much we don’t know. God, for some people, is the universal truth, but that’s just their personal truth. Not mine. At best we might say that we have some earth truths, like you can’t walk through a brick wall. You have to live believing some things hold steady; otherwise, you wouldn’t know what to do when you wake up in the morning.

When I start talking like this, Liz says I should keep my thoughts to myself. I’m always a bit taken aback when she stops me like that. I know I’m not saying anything profound, anything that others haven’t already said, but by saying what I do out loud, I realize what I believe. You need to let other people know what you think to see if you’re crazy or not. You can’t just skip it and say nothing.

When I took Theatre Appreciation in college, I had this old professor—I’m sure he was over seventy—who made everyone at the beginning of each class skip around the stage five times. We had to hold hands with a different person each time we skipped. I loved it, but I think a lot of people initially felt embarrassed. They thought it was silly. But this professor would always join in, leading us around and around, telling us to enjoy our bodies being so free. At some point during the semester there were more of us who looked forward to skipping than who were resistant. By the end, it felt like a daily celebration. It started feeling like something special we shared, something that was just ours. The professor said that’s what being in show is like—doing something special together.

“Well, isn’t that special.” That’s an old Dana Carvey line he used for his Saturday Night Live character, the Church Lady. My step-mom, Jenn, loves this bit. She had me watch as many sketches as she could find on-line. The framework, if you never saw Carvey do this routine, was a talk show called “Church Chat.” Church Lady would interview famous people, usually ones played by a Saturday Night Live cast member or the guest host. During the interview when the Church lady felt she wasn’t hearing proper Christian thought and actions, she would say, “Well, isn’t that special” or “How convenient!” At the end of the routine she would ask, “Could it be Satan?” who led them in the wrong direction.  Jenn and I would laugh and laugh as we watched the Church Lady’s guests become the target of her Christian righteousness.

I considered becoming a minister, but once I learned the history of how the Bible was put together, how it changed from one version to the next, I felt like my whole Christian education was a lie. The word of God was really just the words of a bunch of different men across centuries who shaped the Bible to suit their own interests. I figured if I didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, I shouldn’t become a minister. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite like those religious leaders and politicians who claim to be Christians but act in such unchristian ways. You know, the ones who stand by Trump. People do seem, though, to need something beyond themselves. Religion is just a good story that gives people comfort, helps them make their lives meaningful. People want assurance that the end is not the end. Maybe that’s why the sun and the moon calm us. They’re predictable; they keep coming day after day, night after night.

I always knew that “once in a blue moon” meant that something happens rarely, but I just learned that the expression comes from the infrequent occurrence of having two full moons in a single month. Even less frequent is having two supermoons in the same month. I could stare at a supermoon for hours. Did you know that they appear 7% to 16% brighter because of how close they are to the earth? Perigee. Isn’t that a great word? That’s the word for when in the lunar cycle the moon is closest to us.

I don’t know why the moon became associated with romance. Just think of all the love poems and song lyrics that reference the moon. It’s also connected to the foreboding, and I guess you can put those two things together. You could add in lunacy—that’s linked to the moon too.

I couldn’t see the man in the moon until just few years ago. I’d hear people reference it and I’d have people try to explain its shape, but I couldn’t see it. That changed one night when I was on the back porch of a friend’s house that looked over a field. A full moon was shining as if it had just been polished and there he was, clear as can be. What we can see and what we can’t always fascinated me. Like those perception tests that play with what appears and what stays in the background, like whether you see the vase or the two women facing each other. My favorite one is an image created by coal that had fallen into the snow. Supposedly you could see the image of Jesus. I had a photo of that for years, but Jesus never appeared to me. It fascinates me how other people can see what I can’t. This is another reason why it’s a good thing I never became a minister.

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve been skipping around, talking about this and then that. I do that sometimes. It helps me figure things out. I repeat myself until I can find the difference. It’s like when you see birds sitting on a wire. You often don’t know if they just arrived, if they’ve been there for a long time, or if they’re ready to fly away. Like Liz and me. I don’t know if we’re just beginning, in the middle, or at the end of our sitting together. Who knows where our next hop, skip, and jump will take us. Nothing stays the same. We are always becoming something else.

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Ronald J. Pelias

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Ronald J. Pelias is currently teaching part-time in the theatre program at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. He taught performance studies from 1981-2013 in the Department of Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He works on the stage primarily as a director and on the page as a writer committed to non-traditional forms of scholarly representation. His most recent books exploring qualitative methods arePerformance: An Alphabet of Performative Writing (2014), and If the Truth Be Told: Accounts in Literary Forms (2016), and Writing Performance, Identity, and Everyday Life (in press, 2018).

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